I returned to the office in the New Year to find an email in my inbox with the subject line We’ve Lost Barry. I was deeply saddened to hear from our former client Aaron Skaggs that his husband, Barry Spartman, passed away due to complications from pneumonia in late December.
I first met Aaron and Barry in the spring of 2015 when they were denied a marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. Aaron and Barry were best friends who had been a loving couple for decades. Like our other Rowan County clients, they simply wanted to receive marriage licenses in the county they called home ahead of exchanging their wedding vows. Instead, they were swept up in a national firestorm over religious freedom, civil rights, and the rule of law.
I was serving as the ACLU of Kentucky’s communications director at the time. Over the course of several months, as we fought for our clients in the courts, Barry and I exchanged phone calls and emails, often a dozen or more daily. Barry was balancing a lot at the time. He was a dedicated and long-time employee at Morehead State’s Camden-Carroll Library. Aaron was working abroad when the case first started animating, leaving Barry to fight for the right to marry without his love directly at his side. All of our clients were hounded for months by local, regional, national, and international press. Barry would loop me into media requests, sit through prep sessions ahead of interviews, and keep me posted on daily protest activity that was happening outside the Rowan County Clerk’s Office. We logged a lot of time together. I recently looked through some of our correspondence and smiled at the encouragement we gave to each other, “Hang in there,” “We’re making progress,” “This is great news.”
I was awed by Barry’s commitment to the case. There is incredible bravery exhibited by ACLU clients that Barry exemplified. He and Aaron lived a quiet life, dedicated to each other, their careers, their friends and family, and their community. They celebrated winning the right to marry in Kentucky and were faced with a choice when they were denied that right by Kim Davis. They chose to fight, not just for themselves, but for all Kentuckians. They sacrificed their privacy and their peace when they signed up as ACLU of Kentucky clients. They sacrificed their time in depositions, media interviews, and court hearings. It was difficult, and it was trying, testing and straining their relationships in the community. Ultimately, our clients were victorious. Their sacrifices meant they and other Rowan County couples could no longer be denied their fundamental constitutional rights.
I remember my relief and happiness when Aaron and Barry sent an email notifying us that they’d gotten married one weekend in a quiet, private ceremony in the fall of 2015. It was such a wonderful moment to reflect on their fight and their inspiring love story. I sent them my well wishes. I shared my deep gratitude to each of them and tried to express how they motivated me to get up and go to work each day. As we closed the case and we all returned to our lives and work, I wished them a long and happy married life. I am heartbroken that Aaron and Barry won’t have more years together. As Aaron grieves an impossible loss, I hope that he knows I, and thousands of others across the Commonwealth, mourn with him and are grateful for all that he and Barry accomplished. Even at this time of incredible loss, love still wins.
In honor and memory of Barry, Aaron asks to please send any donations to the ACLU of Kentucky for their continued fight against injustice. Support the ACLU of Kentucky Foundation | American Civil Liberties Union